Just to see where I lined things up, I rated the sets as follows:
* Wanted - Tied to nostalgia-- How much would I really have wanted the set when it came out? And how much do I still want it? (10% of total score)
* Castleish - How representative of the "Castle" theme as a whole is the set? (20% of total score)
* Elements - How are the elements that are included? In particular, how juniorized are they, what unique elements do you get, and how does it stack up figure-wise? (30% of total score)
* Design - How good is the set design? In particular, how good are the details, the features, and the colors of the set? (40% of total score)
I should also mention that I own each set on the list, with the quasi-exception of 375, which I've purchased the parts necessary to build (it's actually sitting assembled in my house at the moment), but don't technically "own". I'll also admit that I don't remember all that much about 8877 Vladek's Dark Fortress-- I built it once, and quickly disassembled it, back when it came out in 2005, so I feel a little less sure about my rating on that set. All the others I believe I've built at least once since 2006, and feel like I remember reasonably well.
All told, on a scale of 1 to 10:
6193 Castle Building Set - 4.33
The Castle Building Set was a cute little starter set that did a decent job of bridging the gap between DUPLO castles and System castles. It was small and affordable, with hardly any juniorization at all, which made it a great standalone kit to play with, and made for a good addition to any child's collection. However, it falls very far short of the mark on many of the criteria on which castle sets tend to be judged in the hobbyist community. The color scheme is inconsistent and overly bright, the castle itself is just a facade, and there aren't really any elements that most castle fans are hunting for. It's cute, but not worthy to be in the competition, in my opinion.
4894 Mythical Creatures - 5.87
Although a fine set in its own right, this set loses big points as "best castle set of all time" for not really being a "castle" set. It's got no figures at all, and doesn't feature any castle-period structures. It's a fine set and all, but it just doesn't measure up to the competition.
10176 King's Castle (2006) - 6.67
This set has a great color scheme, and some nice detail-- and as an added bonus, it was pretty much the only castle set on the market during the short period between the end of Knight's Kingdom 2 and the start of the Fantasy line. But it suffers a lot from over-juniorization, a lack of theme (as I recall, many of the torsos were just blank), and being just a castle facade. Again, while a perfectly decent set, it can't hold a candle to many of the other fantastic sets that are out there.
3739 Blacksmith Shop - 7.70
This caused quite the hubbub when it came out-- at the time, I believe it featured the most peasants in any castle set ever-- a record which stood until the Medieval Market Village. It also embraced the day-in-the-life side of castle which is rarely present in the line. The major critiques I had with it were that the elements weren't all that sought-after, and the peasants weren't very "peasanty". In terms of the competition, it also suffers from a lack of specificity for time-period. This could just as well be a Pirate set given the figures and architecture-- there's nothing that really says "I'm a castle set!" All in all, though, the biggest reason NOT to choose this set as the "best ever" is that there is almost NOTHING that this set has that the Medieval Market Village DOESN'T have.
7041 Troll Battle Wheel - 7.87
This set did surprisingly well in my system, actually-- it was an ingenious idea that fit perfectly with the theme. It gave the Trolls some much-needed humor that's typically lacking in the castle lineup. It's also surprisingly non-juniorized, and comes with a plethora of dark brown elements, and (for its size) a nice chunk of figures! Its shortcomings were primarily in the fact that it's not very representative of castle as a line, and that the actual design had some flaws, like the necessary human-scale handle in the back, and the rather unimaginative fortification for the Crown Knights.
6077 Forestmen's River Fortress - 8.07
This, to me, was a well done, but mediocre large set. The details that were added are fantastic and numerous for a set of the time. It had a lot of figures, very little juniorization, and served as the flagship of the Forestmen line. Personally, I had a lot of little problems with it-- the back opening was a little iffy, and I didn't really "get it". They built their stone hideout between two large trees? That never made much sense to me.
375 Castle - 8.07
The obvious classic. No juniorization to speak of at all, no matter what your standards. It also comes with a huge contingent of minifigures, and has probably the most accurate representation of heraldry of any large castle set. It's also got a lot of recognizability among castle fans as the first castle ever (even though the Weetabix castle came first-- it was more of a promo item with less prominence). However, the design is rather simplistic. It's purely a set of walls and towers, with no real interior details. Also, the opening mechanism is pretty silly (opening into two separate walls), and makes the overall set very rickety when held up. And of course, the yellow color scheme, which is widely accepted as pretty silly.
8877 Vladek's Dark Fortress - 8.26
Vladek's Dark Fortress was pretty good all around-- it had a magnificent piece count, and had a lot of "evil" detail work that made it stand out as a really ominous castle. Further, it provided some desireability to the Knight's Kingdom lineup, which was largely critiqued for its overly colorful heroes. Personally, I found it to be a bit juniorized in terms of its elements (not too much, but a bit), and the color scheme didn't really provide a lot of potential, since black is such a difficult color to work with. Its collection of minifigs, while nice, didn't quite live up to the potential, with 5 being characters, and only 3 generic Shadow Knights.
6081 King's Mountain Fortress - 8.47
This set is another decent large castle, but has very little in the way of redeeming characteristics for me. It has a great color scheme, and some great elements, like the euro armor and horse barding. But other than that, it gets less than great marks. The layout is silly, with the majority of the top of the raised baseplate belonging to a small "garden" or something, where you'd think the castle ought to be. The barred "jail" on the top level has an easy exit on the other side, making it a useless "jail" (not to mention it would be redundant with their other jail cell), and if it's NOT supposed to be a jail, why are there bars on one side? It's also built on a large raised baseplate, which loses some juniorization points for me. And as a final minor complaint, it hosts a single connection point for castle walls-- but ONLY a single connection point, which is a full 2 studs and 1 plate lower than the rest of the castle wall system!
6066 Camouflaged Outpost - 8.57
A truly fantastic set. The details and originality of the set are wonderful, with two hidden doors and a fully opening interior. It's also got a phenomenal amount of figures considering its size, as well as being the first Forestmen set ever to introduce the lineup. The only flaw in my grading was the fact that it's not really indicative of the castle lineup. It also had small deductions for things like having a black tree (when brown would have been more amazing), and not having a swath of truly coveted elements.
6085 Black Monarch's Castle - 8.87
Black Monarch's Castle (to me) was more-or-less a copy of King's Castle-- just in black. The basic design was effectively the same: a central tower with drawbridge and portcullis, two rear towers, unfolding walls, and a jail cell, complemented with 4 horses and 12 figures. And that admittedly is a fantastic setup. It's very iconic, gives a wonderfully large amount of figures, is reasonably non-juniorized (mostly just the wall elements), and and gives lots of playability. The only downside is the color scheme. The black really made for a sinister-looking castle (rather unrealistic), but also hid many of the details. Unlike later black-with-gray-trim castles (like 6086 and 6090), even the battlements were black, which further obscured them from view. Great castle, poor color choice.
6041 Armor Shop - 8.90
This set's legendary status is made by its black broadsword and red Crusader flag, each unique to this set. It also featured a presumably male armorer with shoulder-length hair, possibly more accurately representing hairstyles of the period, rather than the "standard" male hair that was the only hair male minifigs received in the 70's and 80's. Otherwise, the set has a very nice amount of detail for a set of this size, mostly from the small weapons rack. There aren't any large drawbacks to the set, the main one being that it's rather sparse on minifigures. It also loses a few small points for not being a fully-blown castle, and not having enough elements to really be as versatile as some of the other amazing sets in the list. But all in all, a really great small set.
6086 Black Knight's Castle - 9.00
Here's the first real contender score-wise. This castle was probably the BEST in terms of layout/design in my book. Its irregular placement of towers and inclusion of half-timbered sub-structure really gave it a realistic feel. Further, although it uses a raised baseplate, it makes use of it phenomenally, with a small courtyard, complete with a small well and functional trap-door. And with 12 figures (even though 1 is a ghost), it still gives a great complement of soldiers. The downsides are really only the color scheme (primarily black, but not as black as 6085), and the fact that its raised baseplate means it's got a bit more juniorization than I'd like to see.
6074 Black Falcon's Fortress - 9.23
Before 1986, castles were pretty simple design-wise. Crenelated walls with towers, and mostly symmetrical. But with Black Falcon's Fortress, we start to see some detail, with the half-timbered "lord's quarters", as well as some asymmetry. It also has a grand entryway nestled between two octagonal towers, which again provided some difference from the few castles that came before it. Its only worthwhile shortcoming is the lack of figures-- only 6, compared to the flagship castles of the day, which came with twice as many. Overall, however, a truly worthy contender.
10193 Medieval Market Village - 9.30
The new classic. This set smashes a home run in virtually every category. It was (and still is) highly coveted by fans, has an amazing level of detail, has wonderful features and colors, has almost no juniorization, a great assortment of parts, and tons of minifigs. Everything about this set is a knockout. It essentially covered all the bases for everything castle fans have been asking for for a long time (short of pitchforks). A highly realistic-looking set of buildings, with more peasants than any other set to date, plus female peasants. The only reason this set didn't come in at #1 on my list is that it's not really representative of "castle" as a theme, without any iconic crenelation or fortification.
6080 King's Castle - 9.53
King's Castle was the flagship castle of the day, and it was truly deserving of the title. It helped to introduce the fantastic castle wall system, which was able to incorporate both Crusader and Black Falcon castles with a quick change to flags and heraldry shields. Its size and flexibility gave it a truly imposing and iconic exterior. In addition, it hosted a wealth of 12 minifigures, surpassed only by the older 375 (and non-standard sets like chess sets and Dacta sets). Its flaws are really only minor ones. The detail is a little lacking-- it's mostly made of walls and towers, with not much attention to smaller features that could have been included. It also has a small amount of juniorization (castle walls), and doesn't provide much in terms of truly unique elements. But those minor points only leave it a short ways away from being the #1 castle set...
6067 Guarded Inn - 9.60
For years, the Guarded Inn was one of the most sought-after castle sets in the hobbyist community, and it's easy to see why. This set was not only ripe with coveted elements, but it also only had limited availability in the USA (via S@H only), which meant that supply was fairly low. The set itself provided some much needed "day-in-the-life" spirit to the castle lineup, which at the time was relatively sparse apart from castle walls and towers. However, while the set managed to give this "private residence" feel to it, it also integrated the wonderful castle wall system, meaning you could further expand your castles with this set, giving them some much needed detail. There are essentially no real faults I could find with the set-- it loses a tinge of its score from not being quite as "castle-y" as a true castle, having a bit of juniorization (castle walls), and not having an excessive abundance of minifigs (like many other sets have). Add it all up, and yes, I think I'm happy to call this the best castle set of all time.
Last edited by davee123
on Thu Jun 10, 2010 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.